So, I have this sort of dirty confession to make.  

I'm mean.

But the trick is, it's really only to myself.  I grew up with a lot of pressure to excel, had a very typical preppie/jewish/success-oriented sort of childhood.  I was a smart kid, and my mom and dad were both proud of that, but also rather unrelenting about it.  If I brought home a B, that was fine, but how about an A?  And if I brought home an A, how about an A+?  And if I brought home an A+, well, that's living up to my potential.  

That sort of thing.  My dad, who was a pretty bad guy, was also a very wealthy, self-made sort for many years.  There was this unspoken thing between him and me - that it was my job to improve on what he had done, to seek and go beyond his level.

He's long since left the planet, and as my partner Maya likes to say, I'm my own "grown-ass mandog" now.  But there's stuff written down in my BIOS or whatever, that remains.

I tend to push myself.  I always have a lot going on.  I'm ambitious.  And frequently, I am the very worst critic of my own efforts.  It's a weird mix, because at the same time I can have almost rocket-powered levels of self-esteem to the point of arrogance.  I know when I'm good at something, because I'm used to advocating for myself.  It's exhausting.

But I'm lucky.  I surround myself with people who love me, and who go out of their way to tell me I mean a lot to them, or that my efforts or character are worthwhile.  My wife Missy, my girlfriend Alissa, my girlfriend Maya, my brother Spacey, my sister Pene, all regularly shower me with love and affection and validation.

But this post, it's not about them.  (Except to tell them that I love them.)

Dixie_Logo_Reverse_on_black_oval.jpg

It's about a friend of mine, Dixie.

We've been friends for years.  She's an age player like me.  She's witty, silly, and smart.  We're book friends, and nerd friends, and just like one another enormously.

I think the world of her.  And recently, she wasn't feeling so hot, and asked folks to post why they liked her.  So I told her.

 "You're insightful and thinky in general and about fiction in particular. You have strong, passionate opinions, because you're a person of deeply held convictions. I love that. 

Also, you're really cute."

(This is true, she's adorable.)

She wrote this thing back to me, that just utterly took my breath away.

"You have one of the biggest hearts I've ever known, and you are constantly looking to better yourself and become even more self aware, which is amazing"

I'm honestly a little teary over it, in the best way.  Thank you, Dixie.

I can feel myself loosening that white-knuckle grip I keep around myself so often.  I feel a little more worthy of my own love today.

I've touched on this before in my blog, but my feeling around my dad are rather complicated, because he was a great and terrible presence in my life.

My dad was a narcissistic, antisocial monster, who emotionally abused and abandoned me, and who did some astoundingly terrible things to my family, including emotional blackmail, embezzlement, fraud, and manipulation.  He destroyed my grandparent's family business, stole money through fraud from my ailing grandmother, cheated on my mom multiply over the course of more than 20 years, and faked having leukemia to coerce the family into giving him pity, money, and resources.

He was also a genius.  And, he did many great things for me in my life.  I had a stellar education, travelled the world, and materially, wanted for very little for most of my childhood.  

When I was in my early 20's, much of his machinations began to come to light.  I went from yearning for his approval and attention up through high school, being confused about what was even real about him during my college years, to an outright seething hatred and resentment for him as an adult.

I flew overseas to deal with his ill health when I was in my late 20's, and discovered through a series of misadventures that he had faked having leukemia.  He was deported back to the states not long after, and spent the next 15 years in a state of decline.  He was on the edge of homelessness, saved from it only by the good graces of my aunt. and some effort on my part too.  

Despite his change in circumstance, he still continued to play games, manipulate and toy with everyone around him.  He remarried multiple times, conned many people, and got to me in all sorts of ugly little ways for a while yet.  

That's him.

That's him.

I used to be fairly saturated in anger for him.  Eventually I did make my peace with who and what he was.  The last time I saw him alive was back in February 2006.  

He died three years later.  I went to the funeral, spoke at it.  

Since then, I actually have to struggle to remember when his birthday was, what year he died.  

As I'm sure you can imagine, all this makes father's day problematic for me.  But that's not the end of the story.  

During my first marriage, I was a father myself.  I was the step-father to my ex's son from her previous marriage.  He was a good kid, and we connected easily and well.  I taught him a lot of things, and we were a huge part of one another's lives.  When his mom and I split, we kept in contact, and nurtured our relationship.  I took him out for his first beer.  We went on a trip to New York together to see The Blue Man Group.  We were in each other's lives.

He married into a very religious, very conservative family, and things began to get a little weird.  He would post these very cringe-inducing things on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner, and about homosexuality.  

It became a problem between us.  We negotiated a careful detente, and then broke the heck out of it.  Two years ago we had a throw down over Facebook over something, and that became it.  We were done.  I texted him a message on his birthday, months later, and got a very terse reply, "Thank you."

I have a general sort of weirdness around holidays to begin with, that I work hard to overcome.

So, here's the funny thing.  

This past weekend, over father's day weekend, Missy and I went to visit my girlfriend, Alissa in Chicago.  Her kids got to spend part of it with us, and then the rest of it with their dad.   I had good connecting time with the kids, who love me, and whom I love very much.  And mostly, the fact that it was father's day came and went without it meaning much of anything to me.

Later still, as we were traveling home, and I read Facebook, I saw this great outpouring of sentiment, good and bad for the day, including people looking to express all sorts of painful feelings about the day there.

And I made the conscious choice not to add to that.

Why?  Because it doesn't serve me.  A huge part of my practice is recognizing that I am not my thoughts.  Also, that pain and suffering are a part of life, and that they're transient, like all experiences.

There's this thing I'm always going back to, time and again, a quote of the Dalai Lama's.

"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot.  When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy."

"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot.  When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy."

The thing about that quote is, it's not perfect.  I think there are other words than "fault" that fit there better.  One in particular, that I learned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck really jumps out at me: responsibility.  It may not be my fault my dad was so awful, or that my stepson and I don't have a relationship anymore.  But it is up to me, it is my responsibility to decide what I'm going to do about it.

And what I've picked to do, what I consciously do about it each day is this: nothing.

My dad was who he was.  My stepson is who he is.  And I am who I am.  That's not to say that who I am doesn't change.  I'm in a near constant state of change.  I have no idea whatsoever if my stepson and I will ever be on good terms again, and that's okay.

It's not that it's not sad, nor painful.  It absolutely is.  I'm very glad that I got to raise him for as long as I did, and that he mostly came out the other side of that okay.  Who he is now as an adult, that's not my responsibility.  That's up to him.  

In the meantime, I have other things going on in my life, other connections which are vibrant, valuable, and which tap that call to nurture and be nurtured that's inside me.

I want to say, too that I don't begrudge anyone for wanting the validation of others, and posting how they feel about the day, their dad, or being a dad.  I'm not better than them, nor worse than them.  I just embrace my responsibility for my feelings in a way that works for me, and that's very different.

I hold no universal truth about this stuff.  But I do know myself a whole lot better than I have before.  I'm grateful for that. 

 

I didn't draw this - and it's not the right number of kids, but it's got the general idea right.  My poly family is a family!

I didn't draw this - and it's not the right number of kids, but it's got the general idea right.  My poly family is a family!

This past weekend was a big deal.  My girlfriend Alissa (Squee) and her kids came to visit us for Easter, and to be a part of Missy's confirmation at church.  

There's so much to say about it all, I almost don't know where to begin.  

First off, there was the way even the prospect of the visit swept us all up in excitement and planning, at both our houses.  There were discussions about the best and most viable ways to travel (via a rented car), and schedule (travel all day Thursday and Monday), and time off (Friday for Missy and myself.)

And then the easter-bunnitizing.  Missy, Alissa, and I spent a whole bunch of time talking about ways to celebrate Easter.  We wanted stuff for the kids to enjoy, that wasn't all about getting stuff, but still let them really immerse themselves.  It involved a whole bunch of discussions about things that work well for them, and things that don't.  

Sparkly egg is sparkly

Sparkly egg is sparkly

We really made a family project out of it.  Missy and Marybeth shopped for days, looking for the right Easter Basket stuff, and for eggs for the egg hunt.  Me, I'm very-not-obvious about encouraging the kids to co-operate, not compete, so I searched for a way to make the egg hunt into a shared thing.

Here's what I ultimately came up with.  Missy got a bunch of sparkly, shiny empty plastic eggs.  I filled with a series of puzzle messages in a hidden code, based on a cipher key.  I also hid pieces of the cipher in other eggs.  The messages looked kind of like this:

If you really want to figure this out, do a search for the "pigpen cipher", and you'll be able to.

If you really want to figure this out, do a search for the "pigpen cipher", and you'll be able to.

Originally the message-puzzle was going to lead the kids to a hidden stash of pumpkin hand-pies I made for them.  And while I did in fact make them a bunch of those things (which they are all absolutely mad for), I had the better idea of having them search for the presents that were originally going to go in their easter baskets.  (Because scheduling, and food freshness, and the VERY HARD TASK of sneaking around three children to hide things.  You think linear algebra or organic chemistry is hard? It's piffle next to hiding presents from children.)

The special presents that were originally going to go in said easter baskets weren't super expensive things, just thoughtful ones.  Each had meaning to each kid because of inside jokes, games we play together as a family, or special interests they have.

We also looked for a super fun thing to do.  We ended up going to this escape room thing about an hour north of where we live.  It was hilariously awesome.  There was a fair amount of family-wrangling involved in our trying to get there for Friday, and we sort of blew it, because of holiday traffic.  But we made it work for us.  We wandered around the touristy town we were going to go to in the first place, having a great meal out, and just sort of wandering.

The next day, Alissa and the kids and I went back there, while Missy went to a confirmation rehearsal.  We got there totally early which was awesome.  All of the kids (and both grownups) were totally excited to get to do this thing.  Things have a way of working out.  Not only did we solve all the puzzles and escape the room, we did it with eight whole minutes to spare.

That's because we're a smart family.

That whole we-can-solve-puzzles-thing totally came back as an awesome "this is who we are" moment on Sunday morning, when the kids woke up, came downstairs, found their baskets and then the first sparkly egg.  S., the youngest cracked open the egg, saw a coded message and said, "Oh this is just like the escape room.  We can totally do this."  

Then all four grownups watched, delighted as the three kids tore through that egg hunt in short order.  L. the oldest, was sharp-eyed, and saw each egg before either of his sisters, and gently, lovingly, and bluntly-not-obviously gave them verbal clues to help them find them, like "I'm so on the fence about where the next one might be."

He's a great kid.  I love him so much.

Soon they had them all assembled, and put their heads together, and worked out the whole thing in minutes.  It was honestly, utterly and totally badass impressive.  

That sort of family co-operative thing was very much at play all weekend long.  We cooked meals together, set and cleaned the table together.  We supported one another, both when we were all together (like for meal times, or Missy's confirmation), and when we split off into groups.

Part of both that splitting off process and the larger group stuff was bonding.

Missy and Marybeth got girl-time with the girls, braiding hair.

Missy and Alissa spent quiet time together, cuddling and watching Moana.

Alissa and Marybeth got bonding time talking together about shared-life-experience stuff.  

Missy read stories to the kids at night, from The Great Brain books which she loves so much.

The kids and I did that co-op thing big time, playing this awesome silly videogame called Overcooked.

Yang even "helped" some with that.

Yang even "helped" some with that.

And there was plenty of alone-time and intimacy, too.  Alissa and I have a big rule that's super important to us, that when we're together, I don't dress or undress myself.  That's for her to do. We kept to it, too.  I goofed it a few times, and got spanked for it, too.  I was in diapers for bed every night, also.  And we made time for the intimacy with one another that we crave so much.

That wasn't weird or shoehorned in, either.  It fit organically into everything we did.  There was always at least one grownup looking out for, and utterly enjoying time with the kids. 

One of the highlights of the whole weekend was playing some of the games we play together across the internet together in our living room.  We played some QuipLash, and some drawful.

At one point, E., the oldest daughter drew this:

"Melodrama"

"Melodrama"

But I ventured the guess "accidental fart poops", which made pretty much everyone collapse in laughter.  

We all smiled at one another, basking in the warm glow of how very much we all love one another.

Because we're a family.